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Next steps now we've lost our local mom hangout?
December 23, 2012 6:45 AM   Subscribe

I live in a quiet and basically ok city neighborhood that's thinking about gentrifying a little. A few months ago we got a new local cafe/bar that's become a community center for parents. But now they don't want us. Can you give me some insight into why that might be or help me plan how to find us all a new hangout?

I live in a safe but not posh part of north London that's full of babies and first-time-buyer parents with professional jobs. There's a large community of moms on maternity leave (up to a year here) or working part-time. There's a really active local moms facebook page even.

A few months ago a hipsterish cafe/bar opened up on our cute but largely vacant central street. It's one of those places that has art on the walls, opens around 10am to serve coffee and cake, and is adults only from 7pm with a full bar and events in the evenings. Everyone was thrilled, it's given folks somewhere to meet up for coffee or lunch, and they’ve also hosted several kids classes that have been packed. Just having it open has improved the feel of the street. It's never packed during the day, but it's never empty, and it's no busier at night.

I've felt a sense of responsibility for this place and everyone I know around here has felt the same. I made sure I spent my coffee and holiday cards budget there, and we had my son's birthday party there. My mom friends invite their mom friends over from other neighborhoods. We’ve been on first name terms with the staff, chatted about expansion plans etc. In the past couple of months however I’ve felt a vague sense of frustration and eyerolling from some of the staff. A few weeks ago they removed the toys and started making the highchairs “on request”. There are sometimes crawling and toddling babies underfoot and I was glad when I heard they were expanding as it seemed like it would allow the space to work better.

My friend and I were there until 6 or so on Friday, doing what we often do, which is to have lunch, coffee and cake, then meet our partners when they’re finished with work for a couple of cocktails. We said happy holidays when we left, everything was nice. Then about 8pm they posted a Facebook announcement that from the New Year (and they are not open again before then) they will only be open from 6pm on weekdays, and they will be adults only from 6pm. No more hangout, no more classes, no notice. Lots of disappointed but polite Facebook comments ensued, and it was made clear that this isn’t a question of there being a lack of daytime traffic. They are doing well and expanding, but they want to focus on evening meals and events. They “hope another business will invest in the community soon”.

I’m honestly pretty butt-hurt, and feel like the way they’ve done this is a big “fuck-you”, and kind of stupid, given that all their business is local and the money in this area is that of two-income families with young kids, and we talk to each other and have networks. I’m trying to set that aside though, because they’re a business and not my business, so it's their call.

Here is my major concern and my real question: I feel like this community of moms is really valuable and kind of fragile, especially as this is quite a reticent and reserved culture. We’ve become very dependant on the random casual friendly interactions that happened at this place. How can I help transfer that to a new hangout? There’s another place with similar hours a block away that I know would love to have this business – they have repeatedly asked me if they should start doing kids events. It’s a café/bar owned by members of a large immigrant group in this part of London, and there’s no reason it wouldn’t work, especially if they added some cakes and sandwiches to their (too heavy for lunch really) menu, but I’m worried it’s just not “cool” enough for some of the moms I know, which frustrates me.

So is there anything I can do to aid the transition to this new place and make it work? I’d be interested into insights on business strategy too to help satisfy my annoyed curiosity about why the owners of hipster-café have decided to go in this direction.
posted by crabintheocean to Society & Culture (51 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
1) Use the facebook group to solicit recommendations or votes on a new place to meet. It sounds like it grew organically the first time and there's no reason to think it won't happen again.

2) It happens. As you said, it's their business and if they want to focus on evenings, that's within their rights. People who run restaurants or cafes devote incredible amounts of energy and money to making them successful, and if it's not "working" for them in any way, they're likely to go in a different direction. It's not unreasonable for them to be disappointed that their attempt to create a relaxed environment for adults to quietly chat to each other over a coffee had somehow ended up resembling a day-care environment.
posted by modernnomad at 7:00 AM on December 23, 2012 [22 favorites]


Theory: hipster bar is tired of having toddlers underfoot. Moms (even cool moms) aren't "cool" and aren't the type of clientele that the owner envisioned having at his/her "cool" hipster bar.

One of the things that struck me most when I visited London was that none of the businesses made any sense to me, coming from super-capitalist America. I have no idea why, I don't understand the motivations, but it occurs to me that the "but they were making money and had a steady client base!" argument is meaningless here.

Post to your mommy group facebook page (or whatever other outlet you have) that you'd like to start meeting up at block-away bar, and just start going there. People will follow. If the block-away bar is interested in attracting your business, and it sounds like they are, they will do what they can to make you feel welcome.

Talk to the owners. Talk to the moms. The new place is a block away. You can make this work.

posted by phunniemee at 7:01 AM on December 23, 2012 [15 favorites]


I imagine that people will get over the "cool" effect if they want to be where their friends are. There are usually a few people in a group who are sort of the hubs -- you need to make sure they will go to immigrant-cafe instead of hipster-cafe.

So you should speak to the immigrant-cafe and suggest things for their menu, suggest which kid events would be most popular, and start recommending it to your friends (if you all are facebook friends, start a group?). Hipster-cafe is only a few months along, you won't have that much trouble transferring the idea, especially if immigrant-cafe serves good food and coffee.
posted by jeather at 7:06 AM on December 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've spent years working in coffee shops and restaurants. Sometimes even one kid is loud enough to sonically dominate a coffee shop. If you're walking around carrying very hot beverages having little people scurrying about underfoot can be harrowing, as you don't want to spill and waste a drink and you definitely don't want to burn yourself and you double definitely don't want to burn a little kid. Also, quite often the entrance of kid(s) into the place means there will be some crazy mess to clean up after they leave.

Obviously plenty of parents have enough control over their kids to avoid all of these things, but experience over a long period of time shows that these things are quite likely to happen. When they do it can be troublesome for the staff and/or troublesome for people there trying to read or work or study in relative peace and quiet. I also work at a bookstore and when there are multiple kids in the same group they seem, as soon as they cross the threshold, to just start running as if by unstoppable instinct.

It may not seem like an issue to you but over time in a high volume retail or food establishment as an employee the presence of children makes you wonder what clusterfuck you're gonna have to clean up after they go.

It's not fair to more capable parents but that's how it goes. If the owners of your place did not have Kindertown in mind when they opened the coffee shop they intend to be their life's work and design there's not much to be done about it.
posted by TheRedArmy at 7:06 AM on December 23, 2012 [52 favorites]


Theory: hipster bar is tired of having toddlers underfoot. Moms (even cool moms) aren't "cool" and aren't the type of clientele that the owner envisioned having at his/her "cool" hipster bar. [...]I have no idea why, I don't understand the motivations, but it occurs to me that the "but they were making money and had a steady client base!" argument is meaningless here.

Well, maybe not. From the poster:

My friend and I were there until 6 or so on Friday, doing what we often do, which is to have lunch, coffee and cake, then meet our partners when they’re finished with work for a couple of cocktails.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but this sounds like they took up a couple of tables for a whole afteroon without ordering much, which doesn't sound all that different from people who squat in a coffeeshop with their laptop all day, nursing a single coffee. The combination of bringing in kids, which dissuades other clients, and taking up tables for the entire afternoon, which also dissuades other clients, may well have made staying open in the daytime a bad value proposition from the owner's perspective.
posted by mhoye at 7:14 AM on December 23, 2012 [85 favorites]


The cafe might not have been making as much profit during the day as they make during the evening. From what little I know of bars/restaurants, alcohol is often the highest-margin product sold. If they can cut back on staff costs and electricity costs enough during the day, and make more profit because of it at night, then they'd be silly not to.

If you're facebook friends with a lot of the moms, suggest a meetup at the new cafe at a suitable time. I think you can create an event on facebook and invite people to it? Or maybe just use the existing group - suggest a time that you'd all generally be at Old Place, to meet up at New Place.

Also, if the new cafe is actively soliciting for people to go there, and ideas, suggest a few ideas - parent/child oriented things, better food on the menu, etc. Maybe hit up the local library/bookshop and ask them if they'd like to have a reading session for under-5's.

I think it's important to remember that their business practices are not about you. It seems to me that if they were making enough money to warrant being open during the day, they'd probably keep doing that. Of course, if they're cutting their nose off to spite their face, their business will ultimately fail anyway, which ultimately is on them.
posted by Solomon at 7:18 AM on December 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's not unreasonable for them to be disappointed that their attempt to create a relaxed environment for adults to quietly chat to each other over a coffee had somehow ended up resembling a day-care environment.

This, in answer to your second question. You say you were there from lunchtime until evening, with kids crawling all over the floor? That's not everyone's cup of tea (ha) and if it wasn't what the owners envisaged for their cafe, as you say, it's totally within their rights to try and change the culture. Building the business you've dreamed of isn't just about footfall, and if their vision for their cafe didn't include all-day babies and mums, that's why they've changed.

Sounds like the owners of the new place are open to ideas for how to welcome you, so chatting to them with some menu and event suggestions sounds like it would be welcomed. And if some of the "cool" mums don't want to go... meh... Perhaps there'll be some other less cool mums who'll be drawn to it instead because they never liked the hipster cafe cool mum vibe.

Seconding using fb to let people know about the new place. Set up a fb page for events at the new venue, and pop onto to old cafe's page to alert people to it.

Maybe the owners of the old place would let you put a small notice up in their window for a few weeks to get the word out?
posted by penguin pie at 7:22 AM on December 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


I don't want to derail, and this is all interesting and helpful, but our 2pm-6pm table occupation = 2x lunch @ about £8.00, 3x hot drinks @ £2.50, 2x cakes @ £2.50 and 4x cocktails @ £6.00 which is £52.50. I don't know anything about cafes, is that really a low take for one table over four daytime hours?

Actually, ouch, maybe now I'll lose some weight and save some money.
posted by crabintheocean at 7:24 AM on December 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Asking just one group of customers not to come as often would be discriminatory, adjusting their offerings and hours to attract the kind of business they want is not. They started out thinking they could accommodate families by day and bigger spenders by night, but it didn't work out so they're adjusting. It's just a business decision.

For you and your moms' group, this is a temporary problem with a long-term solution readily available. Another business is asking you directly how they can better accommodate families. Direct communication is best, work with these guys. (The original business did not talk with you about the high chairs and months worth of eyerolling.) Maybe they'll develop a kids menu, maybe they have a large room they can charge a nominal fee for meeting space.

But be careful you don't say, essentially, we want you to provide an always-open space, for free, and we only want to buy dollar items, not actual meals, and we'll have a drink or two now and then, but won't stay for dinner. Because that wouldn't be a good business decision for them, and even though you considered the first place a community center, it wasn't, and neither is the second place. It's a business. Make it mutually beneficial and they'll love having you there.

But in the end it might not be about money at all, it might be about having babies and toddlers in the place all the time. The first cafe might have been losing potential business because it had the environment of a daycare.
posted by headnsouth at 7:25 AM on December 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


I don't know anything about cafes, is that really a low take for one table over four daytime hours?

For your server who doesn't get to turn over the table and has to spend the afternoon wiping up all the spills and tiptoeing over toddlers and toys? Definitely. Back in the kitchen they probably drew straws to decide who would have to wait on you each day.

Why don't you just rotate houses? That way the moms get even closer (your goal) and you take turns cooking/cleaning and being a guest. And the kids get to run around the place and make as much noise as they want (or for the young ones, they can wail loudly and not offend anyone, moms can nurse without hassle, poopy diapers no problem, etc.) The kids can't be enjoying sitting in a cafe booth all afternoon.
posted by headnsouth at 7:35 AM on December 23, 2012 [31 favorites]


£52.50 over 4 hours is £13.12/hr. Assuming 100% markup on everything you bought, that's £6.56 profit on the table, per hour. They have to pay the staff at least £6.19 an hour.
posted by Solomon at 7:39 AM on December 23, 2012 [29 favorites]


[There is no call to get personal or ranty here; please keep answers helpful.]
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:47 AM on December 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


I love babies and kids with my whole heart. Loooooove them. When I walk in to my local coffee place and see a big group of moms with kids camped out, I go elsewhere. Groups of moms can, to put it bluntly, act as entitled as #$%^, and make it hard for anyone else to enjoy anything they came there to do. Something about the group dynamic seems to override otherwise-sensible people's notions of what's ok. The fact that you consider it a "community center" when someone else thinks of it as "my livelihood" is kind of telling. The space wasn't there for a mommy group, even if they did have toys and high chairs at the start. I'd suggest being far more careful with the new space, even if they welcome the business at this point.
posted by donnagirl at 7:47 AM on December 23, 2012 [47 favorites]


In addition to the turnover issue, I think you're underestimating the effect of the babies and toddlers running underfoot (and I say that as the mom of a 21 month old). It's stressful to have little kids in a non-prepped environment. In addition to the mess, which they have to clean up, there's the fear of breaking things, climbing on things, outlets, etc. You're probably so used to it that you don't really notice, but the staff can't know that every parent is being vigilant, and I can't imagine they signed up for daycare duty.

This is why my friends stopped meeting in large groups at commercial establishments after our babies got mobile, and switched to having play dates at our houses or the library's kids room. When we go out to eat, it's just to eat, and it's with the knowledge that our kids' tolerance for high chairs is maybe 45 minutes.

For the new space, I'd suggest finding a corner that can be somewhat childproof, and commit to keeping non-confined children there. Suggest crackers, crayons, and placemats that can be brought out quickly, so frustrated kids don't scream. Maybe even find out what the cafe's expected take is per hour and try to be mindful of that. And of course, tip well!
posted by snickerdoodle at 7:50 AM on December 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


Four hours is too long too long for anyone to occupy a table at an establishment like this. And I don't understand how kids are being occupied for such a long time in such a place. Crawling and toddling babies underfoot is not what cafes are set up for, and likely drives other clientele and staff crazy. Also...where are these babies nappies being changed? I'm assuming the bathroom (although I've actually seen this happen at a table before). Do you leave dirty diapers in the trashcans?

Even though you are spending money, your customer "footprint" is much larger than others who might use the cafe during the day. The space, noise, and clean-up are factors you aren't taking into consideration. Also, it's probably driving other customers away.
posted by kimdog at 7:50 AM on December 23, 2012 [24 favorites]


Two issues:

- a cafe/coffee shop full of toddlers will keep non-toddler customers from patronizing the business and cost them more money than they are taking in from family customers who sit for hours.

- is it possible that they were worried about some kind of liability problem? toddlers underfoot all the time can be dangerous for people without the toddler-radar that parents have developed.
posted by elizardbits at 7:57 AM on December 23, 2012 [6 favorites]


I will say that, even if it makes business sense for them to close during the day (as many people have noted that it might), you're fine to find the way they did it amazingly off-putting and to move your evening adult-only meals/cocktails/events to another location.
posted by jeather at 8:00 AM on December 23, 2012 [5 favorites]


Count me as another person who avoids businesses that have a bunch of moms camped out. There is a place that sounds identical to this cafe in my neighborhood and I go there for 2 reasons: to work during the day and for a quiet non-bar date spot in the evening. I spend a decent amount of money there so I can see why they would want to cater to someone buying several rounds of high margin drinks and food rather than a big group with loud kids. Kids completely change the dynamic in some spaces, at the place I go to if there is even one kid it becomes hard to have a conversation. In my experience the moms having a drink or two at the end of the day (especially in a group) are not usually watching their kids quiet as closely as they should be and tune out the noise. I bet they see much higher profit customers walking to the next place down the block while the servers are playing daycare duty. I don't have a problem with kids or anything but I can see why they would do this.
posted by bradbane at 8:03 AM on December 23, 2012 [8 favorites]


"I’d be interested into insights on business strategy too to help satisfy my annoyed curiosity about why the owners of hipster-café have decided to go in this direction."

I have never been in this industry, but my sense is that when people open a place, especially a sit-down one, it is an extension of their personal sensibilities: how they look at hospitality, socializing, environment and food. Their ideal experience, so to speak. Maybe they didn't like being open during the day, or maybe they wanted to change the dynamics of what was happening, it is hard to know. And it is easy to start seeing the establishments we frequent as public space, but they really, ultimately, aren't, they are someone else's space and we are there at their invitation and are expected to figure out their cultural cues, so to speak.
posted by nanook at 8:06 AM on December 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


I’d be interested into insights on business strategy too to help satisfy my annoyed curiosity about why the owners of hipster-café have decided to go in this direction.

According to your own description, mission of this business is to be a bar and cafe for adults with a "hipster" vibe. Don't you see how this is inconsistent with turning it into your own personal daycare? You seem to think that since this place served your needs very well, the business should have considered this to be mutually rewarding. Just because you were happy being there doesn't mean the business was making enough money from this arranagement. And that decision has to be up to the business. They're the ones who get to see all the details of how much money they're taking in vs. spending. There's no reason to expect you or me to know better than them what's profitable for their business.
posted by John Cohen at 8:07 AM on December 23, 2012 [9 favorites]


Something about the group dynamic seems to override otherwise-sensible people's notions of what's ok.

Here's what I know now that I did not know before I was a parent -- When I'm watching my child in a public space and when I'm also trying to socialize myself, I can get extreme tunnel vision. My eyes are focused on my kid, my ears are focused on my friend and somewhere in there I'm trying to make conversation and then mediate kid disasters and head things off at the pass to make sure we all make it out alive. I've sometimes found myself doing wacky maneuvers or being less gracious to the staff than I mean to. I find it maddening in the moment and maddening later and I do my best to handle everything well but sometimes I just have to move on.

Also, I know my kid very well. I have a pretty highly tuned sense of what she will or won't break, what dangerous thing she will or will not be interested in and how she will interact with various things. Most parents are like this. As a non-parent, I'd be watching other people's kids in my house like a hawk and worried that little Timmy climbing on the chair would tip it over and all would be ashes. The parent most likely has a better sense of just what Timmy is up to and where the boundaries need to be. My point is: watching this Lord of the Flies group dynamic from the outside can create anxiety and tension for the watcher (coffee shop employees, here) as they don't know that the parents (mostly) are keeping tabs on things. Basically, what feels to me like well-contained chaos may not feel that way to others. At all.

In short, rally the moms to find another place or, better yet, places to congregate. And start offering up regular playdates in living rooms. I have a mom's group and we rotate around. There's a coffee shop in Portland called Cafe au Play and it's geared towards kids and families. That place is bananas and I know that, despite it being packed all day, they don't make very much money.
posted by amanda at 8:07 AM on December 23, 2012 [7 favorites]


I'm going to focus on the store a block away that you think you could switch to. It sounds like they are aware of your group and the huge niche there, and want to jump on the bandwagon. The relationship with the other cafe is already broken and it doesn't sound like they're interested in continuing to host you. So you need a new spot.

I'm in Toronto and there's an amazing cafe in the Roncesvalles neighbourhood called Smock that caters specifically to your crowd. They have a coffee area for moms, and a play area for kids. They have kid-sized tables and chairs. They charge a set rate for kid access to the 'wonder workshop' which has all sorts of art materials (and smocks!) and has a full-time facilitator. This lets the moms grab an espresso and chill out for a while without being on kid duty.

Would the store a block away be interested in doing this type of thing?

And does your mom group have a Facebook group of its own? If not, set it up NOW and post a link from the cafe's Facebook page (even as a comment on the notice) in a friendly way. Something like "Thank you to Cafe X for hosting us for the last few months and helping us get to know other moms in the neighbourhood! We've started a new group at GROUP NAME so we can all stay in touch and find new places to meet during the day. Hope to see you all there!"
posted by heatherann at 8:13 AM on December 23, 2012 [10 favorites]


Logistics of babies underfoot aside, I think the cafe also probably had a marketing problem presented by having a mom and kid filled cafe during the day: it sets them up as being 'kid-friendly'. That's going to drive off traffic at night even if there are no actual children in it. I personally am going to go out of my way to avoid eating dinner in a place that seems like that it normally has a bunch of kids in it because I'm not going to believe they can make the pivot necessary to changing the atmosphere for an adults only evening joint.

At the new place talk to them about whether they have a space that's available that's a bit separate that can contain kids safely. And maybe go in there yourself w/o the baby a couple of days: who are their regular clientele? Are they going to be displaced? A cafe full of people working on laptops, for example, is going to run fast away from a new influx of kid toting moms.
posted by marylynn at 8:14 AM on December 23, 2012 [6 favorites]


We had a similar thing happen here in my neighborhood. A local coffee shop got rid of the toys (which had been off in a corner, so the kids weren't underfoot), said harsh things to some of the moms who were there, and generally made it clear they didn't want parents bringing their small children in (even though it was a huge place with plenty of empty tables). They tried to focus on their evening events, but they had a reputation for bad customer service based somewhat on how poorly they'd treated what had once been a significant chunk of their clientele. And now they're out of business.

I would be aggressive about moving everyone over to the new place. Make firm dates to be there. Not just "hey we should go to that other place, they have kid's stuff on the menu" but "I will be there Thursday at 2:30, can you join me?"

Can you set up a group on Facebook -- if that's what most people are on -- for parents in your neighborhood?

> I feel like this community of moms is really valuable and kind of fragile, especially as this is quite a reticent and reserved culture

Would it work for you to just bumble around and not be reserved, and tell people you don't know all that well "I've liked hanging out with you and want to stay in touch"? When I moved back to Seattle with a two-year-old and had to make a new batch of friends, I just ignored the social codes and presumed that everyone secretly did want to be friends and was shy. I'm sure I disturbed or annoyed some people with my puppydog ways, but I also managed to set up playdates and make friends.
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:31 AM on December 23, 2012 [8 favorites]


I would say this is a financial thing as well as an image thing. Restaurants undergo image changes all the time. If they don't want to be a kid friendly place where moms hog tables all day long, then you have the choice whether to patronize their bar at night or not.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:33 AM on December 23, 2012


Mom groups here in NYC don't meet regularly at cafes for this reason. We generally have a roving playgroup that is hosted in peoples' homes in turn.

We facilitate this with listservs and online groups for each neighborhood within a reasonable distance.

I suggest forming such a group (or a facebook group if many of you use that instead, the moms here are not so into it) and then leading the way in terms of scheduling meetings. Many people who are more shy or reticent will show up if someone else organizes and makes them feel welcome.

Good luck, I know how isolating it can be to have a new baby--!
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:42 AM on December 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also, I'm sorry that a lot of people seem to think that having small children at a place is inherently rude. It's not. There are different considerations that come with it, just like there are different considerations when people want to work from your cafe or have bible study there, but it's not rude to exist with a small child in a place that is obviously designed to attract and accommodate small children.
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:44 AM on December 23, 2012 [14 favorites]


As someone who's been on the sidelines of these types of conflicts in New York, my guess is that the restaurant decided that, while they want to be familiy friendly, they also want to be inclusive of all patrons, not just the parents with young children. They may have decided that having toys strewn around, a high chair at every table, and an evening schedule full of kiddie events sends the message that it's only a place for families with young children. Obviously it's better for their bottom line if all neighborhood residents feel welcome there.

Also, I'm sorry if this comes off as insensitive, but staff are fully within their rights to get huffy and eye-rolly if people let babies crawl around on the floor of their restaurant. That's disgusting, rude, and disrupts other customers.

The facebook message sounds like they are trying to drastically refocus the kind of restaurant they are running (from lunch spot and cafe to restaurant/pub), which they are perfectly within their rights to do.

As to what you can do? Open up your own cafe. Call it "Mother's Little Helper" and paint the sign in pink and blue alphabet blocks. Make it clear that the explicit purpose of your cafe is for people to bring their toddlers and let it all hang out.
posted by Sara C. at 8:44 AM on December 23, 2012 [12 favorites]


I should clarify that my comment was just referring to the moms groups in my kid-centric brownstone Brooklyn neighborhoods. I can't say what moms in other NYC neighborhoods do, so I shouldn't have made it sound like I can speak for all of NYC.
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:46 AM on December 23, 2012


the young rope-rider, nobody is saying bringing your children somewhere is inherently rude. But I can't think of a situation where parking in a cafe with children crawling on the floor for four hours is anything but rude, and bad for business.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:50 AM on December 23, 2012 [28 favorites]


Also, I'm sorry that a lot of people seem to think that having small children at a place is inherently rude.

I don't think it's inherently rude, but going to a cafe that's open late and serves drinks is not the place for children. They are trying to hit the sweet spot between being a restaurant (which is maybe a little formal for a date, and bringing a laptop or book is logistically weird) and a bar (which is too loud/dark if you want to talk or read). Having even one kid yelling or running around ruins it, and all the other customers leave.

The "hipster" cafe I go to that is like this has a very distinct change over to their evening service that signals "hey laptop coffee campers, order cocktails and food or get out". I don't take it personally, it's their business.
posted by bradbane at 8:53 AM on December 23, 2012 [5 favorites]


[This needs to not turn into a general discussion of whether bringing children to a cafe is rude. Please keep answers constructive, thanks.]
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:05 AM on December 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Maybe it helps to know that other places handle it weirdly too: a coffee bar owner installed a stone bollard to keep push chairs out. This was as well a neighborhood full of young families and kids.

I agree with Sara C. - why not open your own cafe? Maybe as a coop with some of the other moms?
posted by travelwithcats at 9:34 AM on December 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


It sounds great to have such a large group of moms in one neighborhood! I am not a parent, but I'm sure that my parent friends (not to mention my own mother) would have loved to have such a community.

As the child of retailers, I +1 all the "it's their business" comments, but no need to repeat them.

Perhaps it is time to look into renting a church basement or similar community space. Seriously, think how much money the "average mom" in your group drops at a cafe...I say this as a major, major yuppie offender who knows how to run up a tab no matter how little money I am making...and then think about what it would cost to rent a space M, W, F from 12-4 or similar. Having managed a small synagogue here in NYC, I suspect that there are places in N. London that would welcome the money.

Now, with this part I'm absolutely serious, hear me out...you know the giant institutional percolators? Wash them out well, spring for some good coffee and yes, they make a good cup. Rotate bringing snacks, you know the drill, or get takeout from the myriad restaurants I'm sure are around. Some tunes and you're set. A lot of churches and similar have toys on-site, or donate, especially what with Christmas coming.

No, it's not a cafe...but you've been to an open mic in a church basement, right?
posted by skbw at 9:34 AM on December 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


This is actually blisterlips, not griphus.

As a bartender at a place that often hosts kids and parents- I'm going to point out that while you might be super-Vigalent, many parents are not. And sometimes, very good parents have off days. The only way to keep kids from being awful in your bar is to keep kids out of your bar.

A few weeks ago there was a group of about ten families, all with babies around 10 months old. Ten babies, in my bar. They stayed for nearly seven hours and spent about 500 bucks (and a side note that I realize doesn't matter to you since your country has decent wages for servers, but I live in America and I don't get an hourly wage and am paid only in tips) and these douchbags left less than ten percent for a tip. After about hour four, some of the babies were getting screamy and the parents stopped drinking. When they finally left they were the only people in the bar and had actually came up to us and told the staff "wow, you guys must be glad we showed up today." No, dude. You didn't save us from an empty bar, you created it.

Point is, kids are a hassle even when they are good, parents virtually never understand how they come across to staff, and it's hard to make a profit when someone is hanging out for many many hours ... Unless they are hungry alcoholics.

Keep outings with lots of kids short. Tip well, and don't be overly offended if bar staff think your Six kids are not cute as much as a hassle. Inevitably, if the bar changes their policies it's because they need to make more money and the changes are an attempt to do so. It's not meant to be offensive, it's just business.
posted by griphus at 9:35 AM on December 23, 2012 [50 favorites]


I don't know if you need to worry too much about whether it's cool enough; cool is wherever the cool people decide to go, it seems to me. Case in point is a cafe near us that is basically an old-guy cafe. On any given day, you'll see a bunch of tables of older men drinking coffees and playing backgammon. A lot of taxi drivers hang out there. The ambiance is pretty much nil, but it has several good qualities: it's close to our house; the prices are very reasonable; it has outside tables (in addition to inside) on a tree lined street; the food is good. (And the old dudes are funny and nice once they get to know you, and we're now a part of their posse.)

So, my husband and I started going there. We could bring our dog, and even though the street is a little too noisy and there aren't fancy plants and art, or even music (inside has a tv!), we felt comfortable and got to know all the people there. So, as these things go, we'd end up having other people meet us there on occasion, and soon enough, those people started going there, and most of these people are in the film industry here, because that's my husband's field (okay, hey, we're so not talking Hollywood, but these are people in a creative industry: directors, camera operators, scriptwriters, makeup people, editors, producers, sound guys, actors, etc.), so now this is one of the big casual meetup spots for a pretty big group of cool people, and that's a nice thing for the place because they're also buying more food and drinks than the core clientele, and it's bringing a younger demographic. They don't come because the place is trendy, but because it became "cool" (in a way) just because that's where a bunch of cool people were often hanging, and it's a sort of iconic old timey place in many ways. And affordable. And the good food.

And this all happened just because we happened to move into this neighborhood, and happened to start hanging out at that spot and they absorbed us as regulars. And we could bring our dog. :)

So I'd say just take this welcoming other spot up, and be the cool that brings the cool. Offer a few suggestions to the owners, and try to make it a positive thing for them, and even if you don't entirely recreate the other scene, you'll have a place where people know they can find each other if they are so moved, and you'll be supporting a local place that has reached out to you.
posted by taz at 9:41 AM on December 23, 2012 [10 favorites]


It’s a café/bar owned by members of a large immigrant group...

but I’m worried it’s just not “cool” enough for some of the moms I know

I suspect what the OP is really trying to say is that culturally, there may be a mismatch between some of the moms in the group, and this immigrant group. There's a reason why the moms gravitated towards the "hipster" cafe, and I don't believe an immigrant-run alternative will cut it. Let's be honest, they need a comfortable setting.

The cafe made a $ money decision (it's not personal). Therefore, I suggest the following:

- since the hipster cafe is moving towards a dinner menu/vibe, inquire if they will allow you to hold private Get-togethers during the daytime. They won't have to worry about other customers, and you will have the place to yourself. You could work out a $ deal based on guaranteed visits a month, etc.
posted by Kruger5 at 10:32 AM on December 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Might this shift not be a rejection? Maybe the eyerolling was just its own thing? And separately, they saw most of their profits coming in at night, so they wanted to focus that direction? (That'd resonate with all of my restaurant experience.)

I could've written griphus / blisterlips' comment exactly. I don't work at restaurants or bars anymore, but I've seen that exact situation. But I take exception to the "hogging the table" accusations. In my college days, I remember repeatedly camping on a table for 4 hours after spending $2-7 (USD) on coffee and maybe a muffin.
posted by salvia at 11:18 AM on December 23, 2012


2pm-6pm table occupation = 2x lunch @ about £8.00, 3x hot drinks @ £2.50, 2x cakes @ £2.50 and 4x cocktails @ £6.00 which is £52.50.

I think you've answered your own question here. The four cocktails are £24 in total or more than 45% of the total bill, will have had a higher profit margin than anything else you had and were presumably consumed in the last hour.

If you take them out of the equation, you spent £9.50 per table per hour. Using the 100% markup suggested earlier that's £4.75 profit, only 75% of minimum wage for one member of staff. It's pretty easy to see how their profits could improve by only opening in the evenings and serving more alcoholic drinks.
posted by *becca* at 11:34 AM on December 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


It may not be losing money on the day trade, but the owners also have limited energy, and may want to maximize profit on the evening business.

4 hours at a table? Were there other tables open? If yes, then it's not a problem as long as you order more coffee/tea, but if there were no other tables open, you should seriously consider moving along.

I have no idea what there is for business assistance in the UK, though surely your council is a good place to start. There is clearly a market for a bakery/ cafe/ bistro. Maybe you can recruit one.
posted by theora55 at 11:36 AM on December 23, 2012


Hmmm...salvia, this is not meant as a dis on your personal habits. But I do think that having parents who own a retail establishment, having grown up in the back of the house, gives me a bit of perspective that others may not have, even beyond the 100% on point comments from cafe, bar, and restaurant workers.

Just because one CAN stay for four hours on a $7 purchase does not mean it is the classy thing to do. The same goes for OP's four-hour crawling kid scenario. Is there legislation about being classy? No. But does the place have any obligation at all to accommodate you? No.

I can barely walk into an [x merchandise] store today because I can hear my father saying [under his breath], "My GOD, Mr. Butthead, don't let me INTERFERE with your purchase of a 75-cent postcard! No, no, that's OK, set your water bottle down on that $2000 table, that's what it's there for." In all seriousness, I only set foot in my parents' kind of store if I am there to lay down money. Now, I'm not advocating this extreme stance. I'm only saying that from a retail family, this is my absolute 100% IRL choice of behavior.

Business owners may be great people and they may have genuine personal relationships with their customers. But once it stops being about the owners getting money from customers, and starts being about the customers' communal life, then any successful business owner loses interest really fast.

OP, you are totally allowed to disagree, but unless your group is prepared to radically alter its behavior AND start spending a ton more money [cover charge equal to lunch, dessert, and drinks for a table of 2?], I would spare the immigrant-run business the trouble of hosting kids' events and stuff like that. Go and spend your money there, but don't expect them to do anything beyond provide food, drink, and their present kid-neutral atmosphere.
posted by skbw at 11:38 AM on December 23, 2012 [10 favorites]


Wait, I actually don't think that a cover charge is a terrible way to think about it.

What if you knew what the average hourly take for a table of 2? Table of 4? Depending on what size table you occupy, OP, would you be willing to pay an hourly minimum of X plus some sort of small surcharge for the inconvenience to staff of having a baby out of highchair or stroller? Do you think an hourly minimum is reasonable? If not, why not?

Now, no restaurant is going to impose an hourly minimum. But plenty of bars do and I've even seen a few cafes do it. If you aren't spending freely to hit the hourly minimum and then some, then you may want to consider seriously why you are in that establishment.
posted by skbw at 11:46 AM on December 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think it's perfectly OK for one person to camp at one table for a long time, on occasion, and maybe not pay as much as, say, the four top on the other side of the room which is having a full meal. Because the law of averages is probably going to make it all work out. You can't run a cafe if you have to fill every seat in the house all day with people ordering multiple courses and bottles of wine.

The exception comes in the case of when people want to do that sort of thing and bring a passel of loud toddlers along for the ride. Because then the law of averages isn't going to work in the restaurant's favor, because that four top who wants to eat a full meal isn't going to come in. Because they can't have a nice grownup lunch with toddlers whining, babies underfoot, kids running around, etc. It's probably even worse if the restaurant in question has a bunch of visual clues that they are catering exclusively to families with young children, because that four top is never going to come in if they see toys everywhere and a calendar full of kiddie events. Even if there don't happen to be any wailing toddlers on hand at the moment.

It's like salvia's example, if the only people who ever patronized the cafe were cheapskate students who were explicitly there to hog up the tables.
posted by Sara C. at 11:51 AM on December 23, 2012 [5 favorites]


The change in hours might not be about profitability at all.

The owners might have had unrealistic ideas of how often they would need to be present at the restaurant, and how early and late they would be there. Perhaps they thought coming by for a few hours a day would suffice, but found they needed to be there a few hours before opening to supervise food prep and do paperwork, and that they needed to be there at night after closing for cash handling, and that people sometimes call in (or don't call in) sick and no one else is available to do dishes... Plus there's all these events to plan. And employees are more expensive than they realized.

Now that the initial enthusiasm of opening the place has worn off, maybe they just realized that it takes a lot of time to organize all these events, and that if you have to make sure things get closed up and cleaned properly, then come in a few hours before your 10 am opening the next day to bake cakes, there's not much time left for sleeping. Plus you have to turn the place from a cafe into a bar and back, including the food prep areas, every day.

You seem to be taking it awfully personally that the owners decided to be open less hours, and picked the non-kid hours -- but we all have only so much time, and so much energy. Feel free not to patronize the business if you don't want to, but I don't think they changed things as a personal insult to you.
posted by yohko at 1:15 PM on December 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


skbw, at some of the big cafes near the undergrad dorms, about half the people there were doing the same thing, and they seem to have designed for that by having tons of seating available. But my point is not that I was a perfect person 15 years ago (I probably did annoy those cafe owners, if not for my rate of spending, probably for some other reason).

My point is that this is a cafe, which is a place people sip coffee. It's not a gourmet restaurant with $40 plates, a hostess stacking up a two-page list of guests waiting to be seated, and bussers trained to clear empty plates immediately to maximize table turnover. So while I get your point (and by the same token, during the many years when I was a waitress and bartender I tipped like 40% when I went out to eat), I don't think the people answering this question by pointing to her party's rate of spending are right. It sounds average or above average based on my cafe experience (which admittedly, has been on college campuses).
posted by salvia at 1:19 PM on December 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


It sounds from your description that the cafe was a relatively new business. Most restaurants/cafes change their business model/menu/pricing/staff quite a bit during the first year. It's just how it goes. (I think the other posters covered the profit angle well, especially *becca*'s answer.) For food establishments, it is all about the turnover!

It sounds to me like you are taking the closure too personally. It certainly sounds like the staff were a little rude about it at times, but I don't think the timing of their Facebook post was a direct response to you and your friend being there when you were.

But it is difficult to connect with other parents who are at home during the day. I am a mom in a city known for its social coldness, and I think the reality of it is such that we just have to get over our reticent and reserved selves and just start connecting. That may mean inviting people you don't know that well over to an imperfect, messy house just so the moms can chat and the kids can safely bounce off the walls. (I feel like for urban professionals, having people over has become such a Big Deal, so no one does it casually and we spend tons of money eating out. I like to eat out, but is it necessary to do so just to see people?) Alternatively, are there any kid-friendly spaces in your community that are not restaurants? A room at a community center, church basement, fitness studio/gym? Maybe you get organize a weekly two-hour playtime in such a space, and provide coffee for the moms. Not so hip as an arty cafe, but more practical and more open to everyone, and DIY is pretty cool these days anyway.

I guess what I am saying is be the change you want to see in the world.

There are some Seattle cafes that are particularly kid-friendly, and they basically have a walled-off area for little kids to play in. Parents sit at tables around the edge of "the pit" and non-parents sit far, far away. I would not describe them as particularly hip, though.
posted by stowaway at 1:44 PM on December 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think we've covered the "Can you give me some insight into why that might be" part of her question. Does anyone have more advice on the "help me plan how to find us all a new hangout" part?
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:14 PM on December 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


[Just pretend The corpse in the library's comment is in mod style, eh? ]
posted by restless_nomad at 3:06 PM on December 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


Are there houses of worship who might be interested in hosting weekly playgroups? Our church does one once a week fall-early spring. Members of your group who are involved somewhere might check it out with the leadership; it tends to be a cheap thing to run (since most already have some toys; you basically just throw open the doors).
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 3:17 PM on December 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


[Comment deleted; pile-on ends now. Constructive answers only please.]
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:43 PM on December 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


So, a thing you can do is figure out what the cost of having a housecleaning service come in once or twice a week is, as compared to what your typical family spends at one of these get-togethers. These are made-up numbers - I have no idea what a pound is worth in derbycrumpets per mollycoddle in the Dukeshire of Stropwoblet, or whatever is going on here. I only typed that sentence because it sounded really, really British to me even though I've never been there and have no idea what it's all about.

But anyway:

Let's say you've got four families and everyone spends 15 pounds on a day out. Figure out what it would cost to have a housecleaner come in the day after you do this just to straighten up, and if it turns out that's it's 40 pounds or so for a day of cleaning, you could just ask everyone to put your 15 pounds in a jar at the door when they come by, and rotate houses. That way everyone gets a cleanup the day after they host, people who aren't making the mess aren't buying the clean up and all your moms get to hang out together as often or little as they'd care to host.

There are some mommy-groups in my area that do it that way, albeit with a real currency.
posted by mhoye at 11:44 AM on December 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


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